Since the 1960s, organizations in the United States have been sensitized to the issues of bias and dis­crimination in the workplace. Hiring, promotion, and termination procedures have come under close scrutiny in numerous court cases, resulting in a host of laws to govern these processes.

Gender Bias and the Glass Ceiling. Even though the majority of women work outside the home, women in high-status jobs are unusual (Gutek & Gilliland, 2007; Morrison et al., 1992). Not until 1981 was a woman, Sandra Day O’Connor, appointed to the U. S. Supreme Court; it took another 12 years before a second woman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was appointed associate justice; and it was not until 2009 that a third woman was appointed, Sonia Sotomayor. As Janice noticed in the vignette, few women serve in the highest ranks of major corporations, and women are substantially outnumbered at the senior faculty level of most universities and colleges.

Why are there so few women in high-status jobs? The explanation that has received much attention is sex discrimination, which means denying a job to someone solely on the basis of whether the person is a man or a woman. Baron and Bielby (1985) pull no punches in discussing sex discrimination. “Our analyses portray [sex] discrimination as per­vasive, almost omnipresent, sustained by diverse organizational structures and processes. Moreover, this segregation drastically restricts women’s career opportunities, by blocking access to internal labor markets and their benefits” (Baron & Bielby, 1985, p. 245). Despite some progress over the past two decades, sex discrimination is still common; many recent high-profile allegations of sex discrimination have been leveled against organizations (Morris, Bonamici, Kaufman, & Neering, 2005; Welle & Heilman, 2007).

Although women are kept out of high-status jobs by the men at the top (Lyness & Thompson, 1997;

Shaiko, 1996; Yamagata et al., 1997), we should also note that in the past there have been fewer women vying for these jobs. More recently we are seeing more and more competent women moving into academia and the business world and competing for positions.

Women themselves refer to a glass ceiling, or the level to which they may rise in a company but beyond which they may not go. This problem is most obvious in companies that classify jobs at various levels (as does the U. S. Civil Service). The greatest barrier facing women is at the boundary between lower-tier and upper-tier job grades (Cotter et al., 2001; Morrison et al., 1992). Women like Janice tend to move to the top of the lower tier and remain there, whereas men are more readily promoted to the upper tier, even when other factors, such as personal attributes and qualifications, are controlled for (Diprete & Soule, 1988). Indeed, a longitu­dinal study of women in the high school class of 1972 showed that despite better academic records, women’s achievement in the workplace is limited by structural barriers (Adelman, 1991). The U. S. Department of Labor (1991) admitted that the glass ceiling pervades the workplace. Some surveys indi­cate that over 90% of women believe that there is a glass ceiling in the workplace. Clear evidence of the glass ceiling has been found in private corporations (Lyness & Thompson, 1997), government agencies (Yamagata et al., 1997), and nonprofit organizations (Shaiko, 1996). Indeed, estimates are that if the present rate of advancement continues, it will take until the late 25th century for women to achieve equality with men in the executive suite (Feminist Majority Foundation, 1991). To add insult to injury, certain occupations show a glass elevator in which men in traditionally female occupations such as nurs­ing seem to rise at a quicker rate than their female counterparts.

Besides discrimination in hiring and promo­tion, women are also subject to pay discrimination. According to the U. S. Department of Labor, in many occupations men are paid substantially more than women in the same positions; indeed, on the average, women are paid about 80% of what men are paid on an annual basis and this earning differential

is highest after 45 years of age (U. S. Department of Labor, 2008). The situation is much worse for women of color; African American women only earn roughly 67% and Hispanic women earn roughly 61% as much as white men (U. S. Department of Labor, 2008). Even more distressing, the gender wage gap remains substantial even when educa­tional backgrounds are equivalent (Castro, 1997).

Such averages conceal important developmental aspects of the gender difference: the wage gap widens over women’s working years (Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2009). As you can see in the graph in Figure 12.2, the wage gap begins widening rapidly in the 30s, and remains substantial through age 65. These broadening differences reflect several factors: sex discrimination, the discontinuous participation of women in the workforce, and the disproportion­ate number of women in low-paying jobs (Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2009).

Several solutions to this problem have been pro­moted. One of these is comparable worth: equalizing
pay in occupations that are determined to be equiva­lent in importance but differ in the gender distribu­tion of the people doing the jobs. Determining which male-dominated occupations should be considered equivalent to which female-dominated occupations for pay purposes can be difficult and controver­sial. One way to do this is with gender-neutral job evaluations, which examine all positions within an organization in order to establish fair-pay policies (Castro, 1997).

Sexual Harassment. Although the sexual harassment of women in the workplace has been documented for centuries, only recently has it received much attention from researchers (Fitzgerald & Shullman,

1993) . Interest among U. S. researchers increased dramatically after the 1991 Senate hearings involv­ing U. S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill, who accused him of sexual harass­ment, the scandals involving military personnel, and the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton.

By no means is sexual harassment a U. S.-only phenomenon; sad to say, it occurs around the world (Luo, 1996; Wasti & Cortina, 2002).

Research on sexual harassment focuses on situa­tions in which there is a power differential between two people, most often involving men with more power over women (Berdahl, Magley, & Waldo,

1996) . Such situations exist in the workplace and in academic settings (Zappert, 1996). However, peer-to-peer harassment also occurs, such as among classmates in academic settings (Ivy & Hamlet, 1996). Studies show that authoritarianism is a strong predictor of men’s likelihood of engaging in sexual harassment (Begany & Milburn, 2002).

How many people have been sexually harassed? Evidence suggests that about 70% of women report that they have “experienced or heard offensive slurs or jokes or remarks about women” (Piotrkowski,

1998) . Interestingly, men report a similar level of such behavior. Reliable statistics on more serious forms of harassment, such as touching and sexual activity, are more difficult to obtain, in part because of the unwillingness of many victims to report harassment and because of differences in reporting procedures. Indeed, estimates are that less than 5% of victims ever report their experiences to anyone in authority (Fitzgerald et al., 1988). Even given these difficulties, several studies document that over 40% of women report having been sexually harassed in the workplace at least once (Fitzgerald & Shullman,

1993) . Victims are most often single or divorced women under age 35 (Tang & McCollum, 1996).

What effects does being sexually harassed have? Research evidence shows clear, negative emotional, mental health, and job-related outcomes (Schneider, Swan, & Fitzgerald, 1997). Establishing the degree of problems is difficult, though, because many women try to minimize or hide their reactions or feelings (Tang & McCollum, 1996). It is becoming evident, though, that one does not have to experience the worst kinds of sexual harassment to be affected. Even low-level but frequent experience of sexual harassment can have significant negative conse­quences for women (Schneider et al., 1997). Finally, although women in general are less tolerant of sex­ual harassment than are men, both women and men who demonstrate ambivalent sexism and hostility

466 CHAPTER 12 toward women were more tolerant of sexual harass­ment (Russell & Trigg, 2004).

Sexual harassment also has numerous ripple effects throughout a company (Piotrkowski, in prog­ress, cited in Murray, 1998). For example, men of all ethnic backgrounds who work in companies that have cases of sexual harassment, but who are not harassers themselves, report less satisfaction with their jobs. Productivity at such companies also declines, as does general worker morale.

Of course, the crux of the matter is what con­stitutes harassment. What would have to be going on in the situation depicted in the photograph for you to say that it was harassment? Using ambigu­ous situations like this is a technique that many researchers use. In fact, research on perceptions of what constitutes harassing behavior usually requires people to read vignettes of hypothetical incidents involving sexually suggestive touching, sexual remarks, and the like, and then decide whether it was harassment. In general, women are more likely to view such behaviors as offensive than are men (Berdahl, Magley, & Waldo, 1996; Fitzgerald & Ormerod, 1991). Because of this gender gap in perceptions, a federal court, in the case of Ellison v. Brady, instituted the reasonable woman standard as the appropriate legal criterion for determining whether sexual harassment has occurred. If a reason­able woman would view a behavior as offensive, the court held, then it is offensive even if the man did not consider it to be so. Even this standard, though, is more likely to be understood by women than by men (Wiener et al., 1997).

Besides the gender of the perceiver, several other factors influence whether a behavior is considered offensive (Fitzgerald & Ormerod, 1991). These include the degree to which the behavior is explicit or extreme (e. g., rape as against a friendly kiss), victim behavior (whether the victim was at all responsible for what happened), supervisory status (whether the perpetrator was a direct supervisor of the victim), harasser’s intentions (whether the perpetrator knew that the victim found the behav­ior offensive), and frequency of occurrence (e. g., a one-time occurrence as opposed to a regular event). Cultural differences are also important. For example, one study found that U. S. women judged specific interactions as more harassing than U. S. men; women and men from Australia, Brazil, and Germany did not differ (Pryor et al., 1997). Unfortunately, little research has been done to iden­tify what aspects of organizations foster harassment or to determine the impact of educational programs aimed at addressing the problem.

In 1998, the U. S. Supreme Court (in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services) ruled that sexual harassment is not limited to female victims and that the relevant laws also protect men. This case is also important for establishing that same-sex harassment is barred by the same laws that ban het­erosexual harassment. Thus, the standard by which sexual harassment is judged could now be said to be a “reasonable person” standard.

What can be done to provide people with safe work and learning environments, free from sexual harassment? Training in gender awareness is a com­mon approach that often works (Tang & McCollum, 1996). Clearly providing precise definitions that dif­ferentiate between what can be considered a work­place romance and what can be considered sexual harassment is another essential element (Pierce & Aguinis, 1997).

Age Discrimination. Another structural barrier to occupational development is age discrimination, which involves denying a job or promotion to some­one solely on the basis of age. In contrast to older adult bias and discrimination, older worker biases encompass relatively younger ages and specifically relate to the work context (McVittie, McKinlay & Widdicombe, 2003). The U. S. Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1986 protects workers over age 40. This law stipulates that people must be hired based on their ability, not their age. Under this law, employers are banned from refusing to hire and from discharging workers like the man in the photograph solely on the basis of age. In addition, employers cannot segregate or classify workers or otherwise denote their status on the basis of age.

Employment prospects for middle-aged and older people around the world are lower than for their younger counterparts. The workplace is replete with negative stereotypes of older workers and this prejudice is seen as more acceptable than

Employers are banned from firing workers like this man solely on the basis of age.

other prejudices (Blanchard-Fields & Stanley, 2007). Furthermore, age discrimination toward those over age 45 is common in Germany (Frerichs & Naegele, 1997) and Britain (Ginn & Arber, 1996), resulting in long periods of unemployment and early retirement. Such practices may save com­panies money in the short run, but the loss of expertise and knowledge comes at a high price. Indeed, global corporations are beginning to realize that retraining and integrating middle – aged workers is a better strategy (Frerichs & Naegele, 1997).

Age discrimination occurs in several ways (Avolio & Sosik, 1999). For example, employers can make certain types of physical or mental per­formance a job requirement and argue that older workers cannot meet the standard. Or they can

Work, Leisure, and Retirement 467

attempt to get rid of older workers by using retire­ment. Supervisors sometimes use age as a factor in performance evaluations for raises or promotions or in decisions about which employees are eligible for additional training.

Perceptions of age discrimination are widespread; nearly 1,600 suits were filed in 1993 alone, up from roughly 1,100 in 1990 (Cornish, 1994). Many of these cases stem from the corporate downsizing that began in the late 1980s. Winning an age discrimina­tion case is difficult (Snyder & Barrett, 1988). Job performance information is crucial. However, most companies tend to report this information in terms of general differences between younger and older adults (such as differences in recent memory ability) rather than in specific terms of older and younger workers in a particular occupation (which rarely show any differences in productivity or perfor­mance). Surprisingly, many courts do not question inaccurate information or stereotypic views of aging presented by employers, despite the lack of scien­tific data documenting age differences in actual job performance. In fact, the court system may be taking a more relaxed view of age discrimination. In a ruling by the U. S. Supreme Court, January 11, 2000, the majority opinion held that people do not have a blanket protection from age discrimination under the Fourteenth Amendment’s rights to equal protection under the laws. In that case, the majority suggested that age may serve as a useful proxy to determine qualifications for a job if age is related to a legitimate issue. The issue of age discrimination is still an ambiguous issue and should witness an interesting evolution in this new millennium.

Concept Checks

1. What factors lead some women to choose nontraditional occupations?

2. What is the primary reason women in full-time high – status jobs quit after having children?

3. How do ethnic groups differ in terms of choosing nontraditional occupations, vocational identity, occupational aspirations, and occupational development?

4. Define glass ceiling, comparable worth, sexual harassment, and age discrimination.

12.3 Occupational Transitions


• Why do people change occupations?

• Why is worker retraining necessary and important?

• How does the timing of job loss affect the amount of stress one experiences?


irk has 32 years of service for an automobile manufacturer. Over the years, more and more assembly-line jobs have been eliminated by robots and other technology, and the export of manufacturing jobs to other countries. Although Dirk has been assured by his boss that his job is safe, he isn’t so sure. He worries that he could be laid off at any time.

In the past, people commonly chose an occu­pation during young adulthood and stayed in it throughout their working years. Today, however, not many people take a job with the expectation that it will last a lifetime. Changing jobs is almost taken for granted; the average North American will change jobs multiple times during adulthood (Cascio, 1995; U. S. Department of Labor, 2006). Some authors view occupational changes as posi­tive; Havighurst (1982), for example, strongly advo­cates such flexibility. According to his view, building change into the occupational life cycle may help to avoid disillusionment with one’s initial choice. Changing occupations may be one way to guaran­tee challenging and satisfying work, and it may be the best option for those in a position to exercise it (Shirom & Mazeh, 1988).

Several factors have been identified as impor­tant in determining who will remain in an occu­pation and who will change. Some factors—such as whether the person likes the occupation—lead to self-initiated occupation changes. For example, people who really like their occupation may seek additional training like those in the photograph or accept overtime assignments in hopes of acquiring new skills that will enable them to get better jobs. Middle-aged workers are one group that often takes advantage of these opportunities. However, other factors, such as obsolete skills and economic trends, cause forced occupational changes. For example, continued improvement of robots caused some auto industry workers to lose their jobs, corporations

Noel Hendrickson / Digital Vision / Getty Images

Older workers are encouraged to engage in retraining, especially given that retirement is being pushed further back in time.

send jobs overseas in order to increase profits, and economic recessions usually result in large-scale layoffs. But even forced occupational changes can have benefits. For instance, many adults go to col­lege. Some are taking advantage of educational ben­efits offered as part of a separation package. Others are pursuing educational opportunities in order to obtain new skills; still others are looking to advance in their careers.

In this section, we will explore the positive and negative aspects of occupational transitions. First we will examine the retraining of mid-career and older workers. The increased use of technology, corporate downsizing, and an aging workforce have focused attention on the need to keep older work­ers’ skills current. Later, we will examine occupa­tional insecurity and the effects of job loss.